Rhode Island Online Poker Laws
Speaking in general terms, gambling is as mainstream in Rhode Island as it is most other US states. There are multiple forms of state-authorized wagering opportunities for adult-aged citizens to take advantage of; everything from pari-mutuel betting and casino gambling to a state-run lottery and charitable bingo games. Sounds pretty standard, right? But if we take a closer look at what Rhode Island doesn’t have, you will eventually notice that poker tables do not exist in this state. There are two licensed casinos, but voters have limited one of them, The Newport Grand, to slots and virtual games (electronic blackjack, roulette, video poker and keno) only. In 2012, voters decided Twin Rivers can offer traditional table games (not just the electronic variety), but there are no poker cash games, no poker tournaments; no poker room to speak of.
Do law makers in Rhode Island have something against poker? No, not really. It is perfectly accepted by law in a ‘social’ environment, meaning that it takes place in a private home and no one profits other than by being a player who wins money from other players. What about online poker games? Has Rhode Island addressed the issue of online gambling, as have several other states across the US that are either for or against the concept?
Legality of Online Poker in Rhode Island
As to whether there are explicit online poker laws in Rhode Island, the answer is a resounding “No”. We can confidently say, however, that of the 1.05 million people residing in the Ocean State, there are countless online poker enthusiasts; many of which are wondering whether existing state law currently prohibits online poker play. As we’ve found in multiple cases when examining individual states’ online poker laws, just because something is not explicitly legal does not necessarily make it illegal, either. It all depends on the verbiage of the relative statutes within each state.
In the following sections we will attempt to break down the laws of Rhode Island as they relate to gambling, specifically online poker, determine whether it’s illegal and also take a moment to discuss the probability of future online poker regulation in the state. Please note that we are in no way offering accurate legal advice; merely a dissemination of what the laws appear to mean. For a true response to the legalities of online poker, we recommend contacting a licensed attorney or other genuine legal expert that is familiar with the laws of Rhode Island.
Rhode Island General Laws – Gambling
The following excerpts are taken from Titles 41 and 11 of the Rhode Island General Laws as they may pertain to the legality of online poker. Some text has been annotated to reduce verbose and/or irrelevant context, but the meaning has not been altered.
Gambling game: means any game played with cards, dice, equipment or a machine, including any [gaming] device which shall include computers and cashless wagering systems, for money, credit, or any representative of value; including, but not limited to faro, monte, roulette, keno, bingo fan tan, twenty-one, blackjack, seven and a half, klondike, craps, poker, chuck a luck, Chinese chuck a luck (dai shu), wheel of fortune, chemin de fer, baccarat, pai gow, beat the banker, panguingui, slot machine, any banking or percentage game, or any other game or device approved by the state lottery division, but does not include games played with cards in private homes or residences in which no person makes money for operating the game.
Gaming: means to deal, operate, carry on, conduct, maintain or expose or offer for play any gambling game or gaming operation.
Gaming device: means any equipment or mechanical, electromechanical, or electronic contrivance component or machine used directly or indirectly in connection with gaming or any game which affects the result of a wager by determining win or loss. The term includes a system for processing information, which can alter the normal criteria of random selection which affects the operation of any game or which determines the outcome of a game. The term does not include a system or device, which affects a game solely by stopping its operation so that the outcome remains undetermined.
Every person who shall, directly or indirectly, set up, put forth, carry on, promote, or draw, publicly or privately, any lottery, chance, game, or device of any nature or kind whatsoever, or by whatsoever name it may be called, for the purpose of exposing, setting for sale or disposing of any [thing] of value, except as authorized in this chapter and in title 41 and chapters 61 and 61.2 of title 42, shall be deemed guilty of a felony and shall be imprisoned not exceeding two (2) years or be fined not exceeding two thousand dollars ($2,000).
Every person who shall frequent any gambling house or place where gaming is practiced or carried on, not in the performance of official duty and not being the landlord of that place entering to view the premises, shall be imprisoned not exceeding thirty (30) days.
What does it all mean? Is online poker illegal in Rhode Island?
If you read all of that, chances are you’re fairly confused by it. The first thing to note is that only one segment of the law penalizes a player. Under 11-19-21 it states that frequenting a gambling place without specific need (on official duty or as landlord of said place) will get you up to 30 days in jail. It doesn’t even mention actually gambling there, just frequenting the gambling place. There is no definition provided as to what a gambling place is, however. It wouldn’t likely be interpreted as an online gambling operation (unless maybe a physical gambling house is providing computers with access to online gambling). It is not even specified whether a ‘gambling house’ is a state authorized establishment or an unlicensed (therefore illegal) operation. One way or another, we can be fairly certain it does not apply to online poker ‘players’.
Part 11-19-1 makes it illegal to run, or help run, a gambling ring of any type that is not licensed by the state. Again, no mention of it being illegal to play at one (unless frequenting too often).
The definitions in 41-9.1-3 don’t help too much either, and frankly they only apply to their own chapter, not Title 11, Chapter 19. With that said, poker is clearly defined as a gambling game, and the use of “computers” to play is included in that definition, but the term gaming refers to providing (or helping in some way to provide) the game. Players again seem to be exempt from those references and subsequent penalties.
Our conclusion (and again, this is not legitimate legal advice, just our opinion) is that online poker is not illegal or punishable by law in the Ocean State. Since there is no scripture saying that ‘anything not authorized by law is unlawful’, it should be perfectly legal to play online poker in Rhode Island.
Is Rhode Island working to regulate online poker?
The issue of gambling expansion has been much like a tug-of-war battle between regional voters. Some areas are acquiesce to expansion, as was revealed by the approval of table games at Twin Rivers Casino in Lincoln, RI, while other areas are against it, as conversely verified by the majority voters’ obstruction of growth at Newport Casino. And these issues dealt merely with land-based expansion.
The regulation of online poker is a topic that did arise last Spring, but was quickly brushed under the rug. However, there was talk last year that Delaware was seeking interstate compacts with Rhode Island and West Virginia to share an online gambling venture between the three states, which would allow it to compete better with New Jersey. Now that Delaware has gone live with its online gambling market, perhaps that reality is closer to fruition than it once seemed. But for now, there are no online poker bills floating in the House of Rhode Island.